- IT ALL STARTED with a piece of vinyl. On Record Store Day 2013, a mysterious 12-inch appeared in the racks of Manhattan's Other Music. The record itself featured a brief snatch of shimmering synth and a robotic voice intoning a six-digit code. The austere brown sleeve placed this code in a 36-number key, and revealed the sounds' makers: Boards Of Canada.
- ln 2013, a certain woozy musical nostalgia is in fashion, sounds of the past filtered through gauzy, psychedelic textures. But when Boards Of Canada's debut, Music Has The Right To Children, appeared in 1998, it had a black swan quality. The work of Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, brothers from a remote coastal town in northern Scotland, its sound stood at some remove from the computer futurism of their peers; a pastoral, analogue electronica that dwelt on the past with serene but disquieting effect. Interviews were rare, live shows rarer. This, along with themes of occultism, numerology and the Branch Davidian sect, would weave a mystique around the project -- a mystique the pair have occasionally appeared keen to unpick. In a 2005 interview to promote The Campfire Headphase, Sandison said they were seeking something sunnier. "People were understanding things from our music that we didn't put in there ... an evil undercurrent. And that became more important than the music itself." For their return, however, Boards seem to be indulging their fanbase's thirst for enigma.
- Another vinyl record with a different number popped up at Rough Trade's flagship store in Shoreditch. Radio 1 and NPR both played audio snippets revealing new numbers from the code,
- while US cable network Adult Swim screened a brief advert that depicted a drive through a US desertscape shot on wobbly Super8, culminating with six more digits. Theories ricocheted around the internet. Were these map references, relating to the duo's adopted hometown of Edinburgh? Or perhaps they had something to do with 'numbers stations'- short-wave radio broadcasts, thought to be used by intelligence services to send covert or encrypted messages?
- The code, eventually, was cracked. Inputted into a website, the cipher booted a page announcing that Tomorrow's Harvest, the duo's fourth album, would appear June 2013. A listen to the record at Warp Records' London headquarters suggests the last eight years have not been spent in vain. Clocking in at just over an hour, it sounds both quintessentially Boards, and also like a honing of their craft. The optimistic tones of The Campfire Headphase have receded slightly, a more ineffable mood dominating. There are raga-like drones, washes of John Carpenter-like arpeggiated synth, melodies that explode like sudden lens-flare, and rhythms that forsake the skitter of IDM for something more gently, but robustly propulsive.
- Discerning a concept within Tomorrow's Harvest is some job. Some track titles ("Uritual", "Semena Mertvykh") defy explanation; others gesture ambiguously to very Boards concerns ("Jacquard Causeway" may be a reference to the Jacquard loom, a rudimentary mechanical computer). It is music that revels in the power of suggestion, encouraging the listener to focus on minuscule detail, Magic Eye-like, until some no-doubt imagined narrative of international espionage or environmental collapse pops out. On ''Telepath", a continuity announcer counts up a number scale, before starting from scratch, this time missing numbers along the way. Voices loom from the fog, conversational fragments float free: " ... this is quite close ... blatantly concealed ... "
- Yet for all the misdirection- perhaps in part because of it- tracks like "New Seeds" and "Palace Posy'' feel on a par with anything in Boards' catalogue. Meanwhile, that first piece of vinyl just sold on eBay for $5,700-and according to Warp's Steven Hill, there are a couple of discs unaccounted for. "It's hard to say," he puzzles. "Maybe people have bought them and haven't shared them. Or maybe they're still to be found."
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